Congo simmers as Kabila pushes elections to a distant and uncertain future

Congolese Politics
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Opposition supporters hold yellow cards and a stone as the capital Kinshasa was gripped by a strike on October 19 protesting Kabila’s plans to stay in power past his term.
Opposition supporters hold yellow cards and a stone as the capital Kinshasa was gripped by a strike on October 19 protesting Kabila’s plans to stay in power past his term.
Though the ruling party and a minor opposition group signed an accord delaying elections until 2018 and ratifying a cabinet re-shuffle, the DRC’s main opposition and the Catholic Church still reject President Kabila’s unconstitutional clinging to power.
T he Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest opposition group rejected a political accord that delays the nation’s elections for more than a year and called for more inclusive talks with President Joseph Kabila’s government.
The agreement is “a sham solution to the crisis of which the only outcome is the confiscation and sharing of power by its signatories,” Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the opposition coalition that boycotted the talks, said in an e-mailed statement dated Oct. 20.
We “call on the Congolese people to not recognize the illegitimate government that will come from it,” he said.
Article 70 of the Congolese constitution limits presidential terms to five years, renewable only once. Moreover, Article 220 stipulates that no amendments can be made to the laws concerning the presidential term. For president Joseph Kabila to run for a third term, he would either have to flout the country’s constitution or change it. If he were to do this, it could well spark extensive upheaval, given the street unrest and ensuing police violence that broke out in September when the deadline to announce election dates for 2016 came and went without word from the government. Congo’s powerful Catholic church also rejected the agreement, calling on politicians to renegotiate it to ensure elections are held next year.

 Resolving Differences 

Congo has never had a peaceful transition of power. The constitution requires Kabila to step down in December but under the agreement reached this week, he will remain in office for at least another 16 months until a new leader is elected. The national electoral body says the delay is required to complete a complicated voter registration process in the huge central African country. Opposition leaders accuse Kabila of purposely blocking the preparations in order to hold on to power.
Mr. Kabila has not delivered on his campaign promises. In 2006 he promised peace and improvement of living conditions, especially in eastern provinces which formed his electoral base. Between 2006 and 2013, peace did not come to North Kivu and many parts of South Kivu. Several armed groups continue to destabilise different areas of both South and North Kivu. Furthermore, the improved access to basic services Mr. Kabila promised to easterners has not materialised. Clientelism and patrimonial practices are deeply rooted in all sectors, hindering the emergence of strong, transparent, and independent institutions. Corruption is still widespread, systemic and rampant. In 2013, the DRC ranked 154 out of 177 on the corruption perception index.”
Decky Kipuka Kabongi , African Arguments editor
The United Nations, which has an 18,000-strong peacekeeping force in the country, has repeatedly asked Kabila to respect the constitution. It welcomed on Wednesday the political agreement and asked political leaders that weren’t party to the accord to “seek to resolve their differences peacefully.”
Children survey a house damaged by a rocket after fatal clashes between the army and suspected Ugandan rebels in Boikene, northe
Children survey a house damaged by a rocket after fatal clashes between the army and suspected Ugandan rebels in Boikene, northe. FISTON MAHAMBA/AFP/Getty Images
The Catholic church, which suspended its own participation in the talks in September, said the agreement was inadequate and that elections must be held in 2017. 
“We are concerned by the divergent positions between the different parties and the risk that it could result in a violent confrontation,” the National Episcopal Conference of Congo said in a statement handed to reporters Friday.
Any agreement should include a firm commitment from Kabila not to run for a third presidential term, it said. Clauses in an earlier version preventing him from changing the constitution and seeking re-election were removed and signatories said that they weren’t needed as the deal still compels him to hand over power after the delayed vote.

 Avoiding Crisis 

As political tensions have escalated government crackdowns on opposition protests have intensified. In the most recent violence, at least 48 civilians were killed by security forces during demonstrations in September, according to a report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Kinshasa. Congo has denied that its forces acted improperly and said only 32 people were killed.
The political agreement has avoided a bigger crisis by providing a plan of how the country will be governed after Kabila’s second mandate ends on Dec. 19, according to Jean Lucien Bussa, a leader of the opposition group that participated in the talks organized by the African Union.
“We have provided a perspective on a way forward that didn’t exist before,” he said in an interview Thursday. “Negotiations were needed.”
In addition to the prime minister’s office, opposition signatories of the agreement will also take over half of the ministerial and vice-ministerial posts in what may turn out to be a comprehensive reorganization of the government, Bussa said.
Thomas Wilson
Bloomberg News
27 October 2016 - last edited 27 October 2016

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